Sagamore Farm, the Baltimore County racing outfit owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, made only one purchase at this year's sale, spending $220,000 on a colt out of Unbridled's Song and Daisyago, a mare sired by Affirmed, the last horse to win the Triple Crown.
"We all looked at him and commented that he seemed to be galloping easily," said Tom Mullikan, Sagamore's general manager. "He's a good-sized colt, but he's not heavy. ... He makes it look easy out there."
One of the more active buyers at this sale was Kyle Kaenel, a former jockey who retired in 2009 and now buys horses for wealthy clients. He advises a group called K.O.I.D., which buys horses to run in Korea, where the sport is growing rapidly.
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Among his 18 purchases last week was a filly sired by Malibu Moon, whose reputation was burnished when his colt Orb won the Kentucky Derby. Kaenel won the filly for $95,000; the horse originally sold for $200,000 as a yearling, then was withdrawn from an auction earlier this year when the reserve price of $175,000 was not met.
"There are good horses there for sure," Kaenel said. "But it's an exciting sale because people have to make tough decisions. It's really the last chance to get a lot of people interested in the horse, and I think everybody is a little more willing to take a risk."
Other horses boost their profiles between the times they are sold. Trainer Nick Zito happily paid $360,000 — the second-highest price of the sale — to acquire a Malibu Moon colt who sold for $165,000 a year ago.
David Hayden, a longtime Maryland breeder, sold the top filly on the first day of the sale for $240,000 in what he called "a classic example of perceived bad luck turning into good luck." He wanted to sell her last year but pulled her back after a minor injury. He continued to invest in her, spending $75,000 as she worked with Brennan. The two men expected only $150,000 and were prepared to keep her if they didn't get more than $100,000.
"You need those sort of big hits," said Hayden, a member of the Maryland Racing Commission.
Profits from the sale, he said, will help his Dark Hollow Farm continue ramping up its operations to take advantage of the improving climate for racing in Maryland.
The Maryland Racing Commission's approval last week of a new bonus program that eventually will pay 30 percent bonuses to owners and breeders of Maryland horses who win, place or show at Maryland's tracks is expected to promote breeding in the state in coming years. Those foals will now be worth more when they go to sales because of the potential for bonuses.
"I always say a horse is only worth what he or she can earn," said Mike Pons, who with his brother Josh runs the breeding and racing operation Country Life & Merryland in Harford and Baltimore counties.
Their farm already has seen an uptick in business because of the larger purses made possible by slots revenue and the promise of the breeders incentive program. They have added staff and had 22 foals this year compared with six a year ago.
They've also benefited from Orb's success. After originally bringing Malibu Moon to stud at their Fallston farm after just two races, they retain a 25 percent share in the stallion who soon might command a fee more than $100,000 per foal.
One of Malibu Moon's colts fetched the highest price of the Midlantic sale at $450,000, elating the brothers. But they still envision a day when more of the horses sold at the Timonium auction will be Maryland-breds bound for tracks in the state. That would boost an industry now valued at $5 billion by the Maryland Horse Industry Board.
It also would deliver on the promises made when a portion of Maryland slots revenue was set aside for horse racing.
"The hope is that they'll soon see at these sales that the Maryland horses have made a comeback," Josh Pons said, "and that it makes sense to run them here."